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Tennis - 11. January 2019.

Sharma in main draw after qualifying thriller

Astra Sharma can’t recall being part of a match or in front of a crowd that quite compares.

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In the final qualifying showdown to finish on Friday, the last-standing Australian woman threw her hands over her face in disbelief as a packed Court 8 crowd stood to remind her what she had just achieved.

After two hours and 46 minutes, she had saved three match points to withstand a cramping Irina Khromacheva and book her Grand Slam main draw debut.

“No nothing like that [before],” Sharma laughed. “It was an electric atmosphere. I knew obviously she was cramping.

“There was a lot on the line. Just to have that crowd support was really just pushing me through a heap.”

While a promising junior, the 23-year-old had turned to college tennis in the US to hone her progress.

Initial hopes of becoming a surgeon were soon set aside, and only a month ago Sharma had sounded notice she was on the rise with a surprise run to the Australian Open 2019 Wildcard Playoff final.

Now she will contest her first tour-level match at her home Grand Slam against a fellow Australian, Priscilla Hon.

“To be honest, no expectations now,” she said. “Just really happy to get that win.

“My parents, they were up in the stands, far tucked up in the back, but they were there the whole way.”

The left-handed Khromacheva had let slip three match points in the second-set tie-break and by the deciding match tie-break, was fighting back tears as she desperately shook her hands and right thigh, trying to ward off cramps.

“I think I changed a little bit how I was playing because I didn’t want to give any cheap errors and then she just started going for it which really changed the tone of the match,” Sharma said. “I mean once I got that [second set] I was really confident. I felt really good in the third because I wasn’t tired or anything.”

If not for a fear of water, there is every chance Iga Swiatek would be chasing black lines down swimming pools, aiming to follow in her father’s footsteps as a Polish Olympian.

Instead, the 17-year-old will make her Grand Slam debut at AO2019 after winning her third match in qualifying earlier on Friday.

The daughter of 1988 Olympic rower Tomasz Swiatek, the teenager first dipped her toes in the water before picking up a tennis racquet – and it wasn’t with an oar in hand.

After beating American Danielle Lao 6-1 6-3 to book a main draw berth on Friday, the Pole spoke of how it could all have panned out so differently.

“Actually my father didn’t want me and my sisters to be rowers because tennis you can get more from that sport,” Swiatek said. “He wanted us also to play an individual sport so tennis was the best sport for me because I was afraid of water.

“We also tried swimming but that wasn’t a good idea. Tennis was perfect.”

Swiatek signed off on her junior career with a statement breakthrough in 2018. She became the fourth Polish woman to win junior Wimbledon in July, 13 years after her idol, the recently retired Agnieszka Radwanska.

The teenager, eyes peering beneath a Rafael Nadal cap, explains earnestly the importance of not comparing her progress to her famous compatriot.

“She’s a big inspiration,” Swiatek said. “She’s a perfect example showing the young players from Poland that we can do it so that’s motivating me.

“But everyone asks if I’m the next Aga. She made such great results in her whole career that I still have to wait like 10 years to be the same.”

 

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